Wigan Warriors have confirmed that Thomas Leuluai will captain the club for the 2021 Betfred Super League season.
Leuluai, 35, is one of the most decorated players in the game, having won seven major honours with Wigan: the World Club Challenge, Super League twice, and both the Challenge Cup and League Leaders’ Shield three times.
After playing 302 games for the Warriors, Leuluai will be the most experienced player in the 2021 first team squad as he heads into his eleventh season with the Warriors.
The former World Cup winner signed a new, one-year extension at the end of last year, to remain with the club for the 2021 campaign.
Chairman, Ian Lenagan, said: “This was an incredibly important decision for me and for the club. I have never actually named a Wigan captain as I was fortunate to inherit Sean O’Loughlin from the previous regime.
“I have a long history with Tommy, having been with him as Chairman of London Broncos/Harlequins. To watch him develop into the player and the person he has become has been very rewarding, for me personally. When you look at all the valued characteristics of a captain, Thomas ticks every box.
“Even in the twilight of his career he still sets the standards, both on and off the field. I am convinced he will lead the club well through 2021.”
Wigan executive director, Kris Radlinski, said: “We took a scientific approach when making this selection, which included the creation of a leadership matrix on which all candidates were scored and comments were made.
“We also sought external expert advice in the decision-making process.
“Dan Simmons, who has a specialist leadership company and a military background, came in and worked with the club’s directors and staff to probe into what qualities we were looking for.
“Many people will have opinions, but we have spent a great deal of time looking at the characteristics of high performing captains. What happens on the field has a bearing but also, what happens on a day-to-day basis in the training environment is incredibly important.
“Lifestyle, emotional intelligence, humility and many other factors were considered. Not only were we concerned with identifying the next captain, but with the much longer journey working with other players and staff, to develop the key qualities of future potential leaders.”
On Friday afternoon after training at Robin Park Arena, the first-team squad were informed of the decision with a handover speech from O’Loughlin.
O’Loughlin, who was consulted throughout the process, said: “I’m buzzing for Tommy. It feels like he’s done it for a number of years anyway – when I’ve not played.
“I know he’s not from Wigan, but he understands the importance of rugby in this town and what it means to people. I know his mentality and the way he is; he fits the bill perfectly, not only because of his attributes as a player but the actions he takes with a team-first mentality. There’s no selfishness in any decisions he makes. He cares about the lads he plays with.
“I’ll help him with anything he needs help on. He’s been around long enough though and he knows the score. You’ve got to bring something onto the field, have a presence and Tommy’s got that. My time as captain has always been best when I’ve had blokes like Tommy around me.”
On being named the club captain for 2021, Leuluai said: “I am honoured to be named the club captain.
“It’s something I’ve never really chased or thought about, but at this stage of my career I understand the responsibility that goes along with it. I’m really privileged and honoured to be able to do the job.
“Ian, Kris and Adrian spoke to me about it, and I understand the duty that goes with it. With my age and my experience, I’m really happy to fulfil the role for them. I won’t really change too much in what I’ve been doing and how I go about my stuff.”
On taking over the role from O’Loughlin, Leuluai said: “Sean has been my captain for the majority of my career. I feel lucky to have had him as my captain – I learned so much off him, in the way he leads and the way he is as a person. I’ll be trying to mirror what he has done.”